The Civic Scene: Court decision will assist underfunded city schools

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In 1993 a group of parents and pro-school advocates created the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and filed suit to obtain more money for the New York City schools from New York state. Their contention was that the state formula that allocated money for the schools throughout the state was unequal.

While the city has 37.3 percent of the state’s children, it received only about 34 percent of the funding. The amount of funding changes from time to time, but the city does not receive its fair share.

Chief Court of Appeals Judge Judith Kaye’s 4-1 decision gave the Legislature until July 30, 2004 to provide a fiscal formula more fair to the students. A whole year can go by until something is done or perhaps only a few months will be needed. Money will be good, but a lot more will have to be done to help more children learn more. At the same time, a school system is being created.

It is questionable whether the same old political maneuvering and games in Albany will keep money from where it is needed and if those fired school aides, who actually help the children in the classroom, will be returned before September 2003. The bilingual bureaucracy must be removed and the children taught English in a reasonable amount of time.

The school system needs to be able to save some of the money spent on special education by cutting down on paperwork. Other questions that must be answered include: Will the amount of money spent on the new district offices and supervisors be less than was spent before? Will they actually be able to get more people who can work directly with students? Will they cut down on illegal aliens who don’t pay taxes and aren’t registered as needing services so federal or state money is not provided?

About 50 percent of our children graduate in four years, about 10 percent need another year or so and about 30 percent drop out of school by the 10th grade. This has always been and will continue unless changes take place. In some areas, more pass and in some areas fewer pass. The social, cultural and economic problems are mind-boggling.

Some foreign-born families don’t believe in education. Instead, they may feel their children should work. Some families are dysfunctional. There may be physical, drug or alcohol abuse. Some parents just don’t know how to raise children. Some children are made prostitutes. Some children join gangs because they are made to, or they think gangs are a place to be safe. Other reasons they join are to obtain drugs or money or so they can carry a weapon.

Some families move every year or so to get away from bills, back rent or an abusive person. Some teachers find a 50 percent change in students in a school year. Sometimes 20 percent or 30 percent of the students lose books due to moves, fights or fires.

Can a new system replace these books? Often only about $25 is allocated for a book, but a brand-new book can cost $40. Will there be money for workbooks in which the children can actually write? Will there be money for broken or stolen equipment?

Will new modern equipment be available? A computer lab in an elementary school or a hi-tech lab in a high school can cost $300,000. How can students be ready for the modern world using old equipment?

How can schools be kept in good repair if the custodians don’t fix broken things? New contracts make them do more. Why was scaffolding left on schools for month after month at a very high rental cost when money to repair the schools was taken out of the budget for months or years? Will the new paid parent position in each school cause other parents to do less?

In an attempt to save money, will emotionally disturbed or developmentally disabled children be put back into classrooms without the help of an aide for each child? Will there be too many people in district offices and not in the classrooms? There had been an attempt to bring the 32 school districts down to 32 districts, but now there will be some staff remaining in the old districts. I hope this adds up to a saving of money for classroom teachers and students and not an increase of bureaucracy.

In the long run it is the interaction between teachers and students that will produce learning. Mainstreaming is a good idea if support services actually are implemented in a timely manner for the teachers’ use.

I like a few of the ideas being proposed for the school system. Uniform lessons for inexperienced teachers who have children who constantly move from school to school or are dysfunctional might create structure as well as stability in planning. The problem is that the lessons are created by ordinary people so they might not be very innovative. As teachers become more experienced they may demand to innovate or teach a brighter, more stimulating class, or they will just move on.

More mainstreaming can be good if the children actually can do the work and have an aide to help them. It also depends on how much support the parents provide. It is the parent who helps his or her child learn or who can instigate against a teacher and break a teacher’s spirit. Teachers need assistance and the time to learn new things.

Supervisors have to support and help teachers, not just blame them for problems over which they have no control. The problem is that not every child can learn everything demanded of him or her, and supervisors under pressure from higher-ups may just blame the teacher, who in turn moves to a better school and is found satisfactory.

A lot has been accomplished in many educational institutions, but the 30 percent or 40 percent failure rate has tainted all the schools. Just read the positive stories about our schools in our many Queens newspapers. Talk to students who graduated. Most are satisfied. I hope more will be in the future.

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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